Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, x, 210 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Joanne Kaufman

Committee Members

Jamie Fader, Joanna Dreby, David Wagner


Affect Control, Emotion, Empathy, Forgiveness, Homicide, Identity, Murder victims' families, Murder, Bereavement, Loss (Psychology)

Subject Categories

Criminology | Social Psychology | Sociology


This dissertation research project is a qualitative exploration of emotion and identity following loss of a loved one to homicide. It answers the questions, “How do individuals who have lost loved ones to homicide understand and experience forgiveness, and how does this vary by social distance from the offender and social position (race, gender, social class, age, religion, and education)?” and “How do forgiveness processes relate to identity?” It uses a symbolic interactionist framework and draws upon several diverse literatures including identity theory and affect control theory in sociology, research on forgiveness and empathy in psychology, and concepts from restorative justice in criminology. It involves 36 semi-structured interviews of individuals who have lost loved ones to homicide paired with over two years of concurrent participant observation of local victim networks. Observation includes monthly meetings of two victim self-help groups, local charity events and fundraisers, private and public memorials, advocacy and community outreach events, and holiday and familial gatherings. Findings include the discovery of three distinct definitions of forgiveness, each learned through interaction with family or religion, and contradiction between individuals’ ideologies surrounding forgiveness and their lived experiences of forgiveness/unforgiveness after extreme harm. It includes the discovery of a forgiveness-fostering factor not yet examined in previous work (evidence of prosocial change) as well as two distinct processes that lead to forgiveness, which vary based on the social distance between forgiver and forgiven. Finally, it indicates the existence of three identities that develop after loss to homicide, ‘victim,’ ‘survivor,’ and ‘transcender,’ and demonstrates how each is distinct in terms of several aspects of one’s social world including